This Memorial Day weekend, as we remember all nurses who have served in the U.S. military, we spotlight one, Air Force Captain Mary Klinker, who died in a plane crash outside Saigon during the final days of the Vietnam War. She was the only member of the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps—and the last military nurse—to die in that war.
Capt. Klinker had volunteered to work aboard the first flight of a mission, Operation Babylift, ordered by President Gerald Ford’s administration in the weeks before the fall of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City). The aim was to move 2,000 South Vietnamese orphans and displaced children to the Philippines and then the United States for adoption.
In addition to Capt. Klinker, more than 300 passengers, including Air Force personnel, Defense Attaché Office employees, and about 250 children, filled the troop compartment and cargo area of the C-5 cargo plane on April 4, 1975. Children were placed together in seats and cardboard boxes. Soon after leaving the airport near Saigon, a substantial malfunction in the rear of the plane led to a forced landing in a field. About 130 passengers, many of whom were in the cargo area, died. Capt. Klinker was caring for children in that […]